I was in a church recently that struggles with disunity. The pastor has a great vision and is supported by most everyone, but the church has two dominant factions, mostly split over a denominational issue. In working with the church, I quickly assessed they had a unity problem. I felt like a genius consultant, but the truth is I only discovered what they already knew.
The problem wasn’t discovering the problem, it was in finding solutions. The church needs to come together if they hope to move forward and complete all the opportunities God is sending their way.
How do you create unity in a church?
Here are 7 thoughts on creating unity:
Avoid the core DNA when making changes – There are some things that are not worth changing; especially until unity returns. It makes no sense to create further disunity in an area where the church is already unified. For example, if the church is overwhelmingly supportive of Sunday school, but you are a proponent of small groups, don’t try to make that change now (if ever) until unity is achieved.
Find common ground – What do people agree upon? Again, maybe its Sunday school, but perhaps it’s reaching the community’s lower income families. It could be a ministry of adoption or homelessness. There are probably numerous ministries or interests within the church about which everyone is passionate. Find some and pour energy into them. The more of these you can identify and rally people around, the more unified the church will become.
Plan group activities – This can be an ice cream social or a ministry opportunity to one of the common issues, but it should be something that will involve people from both sides of the divide. It would be best if you could get someone from each faction to the planning table for these events. Most likely there are some who, though they have chosen a “side” to support, are mature enough that they can work with someone of a different opinion to plan a function.
Celebrate success – Something about celebrating brings people together. Find small wins and celebrate them. Celebrate the things that people agree upon. Often this will be the history of the church or the heart the church has for missions or ministry.
Challenge the few objectors – There are usually a few people who are naturally divisive. This number is usually smaller than it appears, but these people are critical of everything and usually bring down the morale of others and the church. You may have to pull them aside, ask them to cooperate, and, if they will not, work to remove them from power. (This is obviously the subject of another blog post, but a necessary part of creating unity.) The unity and vision of the church is more important than appeasing those whose only mission is to disrupt.
Embrace the influencers – Just as there are a few who are negative, there are usually a few who are positive about unity and who have influence over others. I believe in the “each one reach one” practice. Spend time with these influencers, help them understand the importance of unity, then encourage and release them to help shape an atmosphere and culture of unity, one person at a time. Keep these natural influencers and encouragers close and informed and empower them to help create unity.
Communicate effectively – Communication is always important, but especially during times of disunity that information flow freely. When people don’t have information, they assume you are keeping it from them intentionally. Keep people informed and they feel more like they are part of the team and the vision.
Obviously every situation is unique. Don’t be ashamed to seek outside help. Creating unity takes time, prayer and hard work. Keep in mind that the process involves relationships, so it can be messy. Unity will likely involve people granting forgiveness and releasing the right to have things their way. Depending on the severity of the division in the church, these issues should certainly be shaping your teaching during this time. It may be subtle or more direct, but certainly deliberate.
Finally, for an illustration purpose, you might treat the process as you would if you were counseling a couple, only on a larger scale, of course. Identifying the underlying problems and offering small, steady steps to improving the relationships before you address the issues of division will help create unity.
What suggestions do you have for creating unity?